Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179)

O Comforting Fire of Spirit

O comforting fire of Spirit,
Life, within the very Life of all Creation.
Holy you are in giving life to All.

Holy you are in anointing
those who are not whole;
Holy you are in cleansing
a festering wound.

O sacred breath,
O fire of love,
O sweetest taste in my breast
which fills my heart
with a fine aroma of virtues.

O most pure fountain
through whom it is known
that God has united strangers
and inquired after the lost.

O breastplate of life
and hope of uniting
all members as One,
O sword-belt of honor,
enfold those who offer blessing.

Care for those
who are imprisoned by the enemy
and dissolve the bonds of those
whom Divinity wishes to save.

O mightiest path which penetrates All,
from the height to every Earthly abyss,
you compose All, you unite All.

Through you clouds stream, ether flies,
stones gain moisture,
waters become streams,
and the earth exudes Life.

You always draw out knowledge,
bringing joy through Wisdom’s inspiration.

Therefore, praise be to you
who are the sound of praise
and the greatest prize of Life,
who are hope and richest honor
bequeathing the reward of Light.

In an age when life expectancy was somewhere around forty, Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179) lived a life that was remarkably long and incredibly productive. Carmen Butcher described Hildegard as an “Über-multitasking Frau” and authentic “polymath.” The description fits. The Benedictine abbess founded two convents, conducted four preaching tours, penned at least 400 letters, wrote music and a morality play, supervised illuminated manuscripts, cared for her fellow sisters, and wrote three major theological tomes based upon her famous visions. All this despite her pronounced feelings of self-doubt, the lack of formal schooling, chronic illnesses that probably included depression and migraine headaches, and the subservient roles assigned to women by a male-dominated church and culture.

Hildegard was born the youngest of ten children to an aristocratic family that lived near Mainz. She started having what she later concluded were divine visions as earlier as age three. When she was eight her parents dedicated her to the religious life, and at age fourteen she entered the St. Disibod Abbey at Disibodenberg. Until her death almost seventy years later, she devoted herself to the life of a Benedictine nun. After keeping her visions to herself for decades, when she was forty-two Hildegard says that God told her to write what she had seen and heard: “So now you must give others an intelligible account of what you see with your inner eye and what you hear with your inner ear. Your testimony will help them. As a result, others will learn how to know their Creator. They’ll no longer refuse to adore God.”

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